There have been times in my life when I spoke truth to power loudly and publicly. I felt my anger like a star, burning and bright. The embers are still glowing, but I have been tired. I am so much water.
Addressing the wounds of the world takes a kind of strength I started to lose as the wounds of my family and my own tender being burst open. There is no clear delineation between these pains as they’re felt – the pain of living with genocidal systems operating all around us, the pain of loss, of intergenerational trauma, illness, abuse… they bleed into each other. So many wounds eventually look the same regardless of how they were made or the intentions of those who made them.
Someone very close to me has been abusive for years. He is a writer too, and he sometimes sends long letters full of manipulative, threatening language. I have written countless drafts back to him, detailing everything he’s done to me and everything I’ve witnessed him do to people I love, foolishly hoping he will see the truth in my words and desire to make amends, my dream of restorative justice.
I learned the hard way that any communication with him backfires. He will select one word and twist it to suit his toxic narratives. My communication is an invitation for him to attack with more intensity, and he’s made it clear to me, at times even saying so explicitly, that he does not care to hear what I have to say. He is not interested in understanding or accepting responsibility. He has exhausted my anger.
I’ve found it difficult to write as a result. Not only have I felt on a deeply personal level a horribly frustrating futility in my words, but I am terrified of replicating the language of abuse. I share genes with this person. Our demons are close. The slightest hint of his voice in my own silences me quick. I have felt this in other ways. The poisons of our world infect and confuse. The fear of irrevocably fucking up, the fear of turning into the very thing I am fighting… it can be debilitating.
Even when I manage to move through those fears and channel again the righteous rager, I eventually come to a stillness that asks, then what? And the answer from the wise, always, that we need to heal and build.
I suppose in some ways that’s what I’ve been trying to do, starting small, starting with myself – build from the ground up, build something from a place of understanding and care. It’s not as glorious as the fire-breathing dragon I can be, so adored. Healing is not glamorous. It’s painstakingly picking through a trash heap. It’s all the things that no one is going to applaud me for doing, that no one may see at all. It’s having to just keep moving forward, keep waking up, keep doing what I have to do to stay alive despite the parts of me that feel defeated and despaired. It’s finding the good not just in spectacle, but in intimacy.
My abuser isolates himself, and I know it’s easier for him to maintain his illusion of power that way. At times when I have tried to reach him, I get a glimpse of someone vulnerable, and then that person is locked away, and the tyrant appears. This happens too when we create nations and borders and hierarchies, constructed inequalities to prevent the intimacy that would reveal our shared vulnerability: what it is to be alive on Earth, to feel fear and pain. Even the work of healing is painful. It can feel like there is no escape, no relief, and I too have chased those twin pillars to destructive ends, seeking power and simply finding more pain.
I cannot escape my fear and pain, but I can manage them. Just as I must continually combat manifestations of oppression in myself, the work of healing my own trauma and illness is an ongoing process. I can’t say I acknowledge my white privilege and understand the system of racism and then be done with it. I must be attentive, always listening, checking in, reflecting.
I have been writing this for months now. I keep coming back and making adjustments, but I know I am in many ways just avoiding the moment of reaching out. I am so practiced now in seeing my words atrophy, in reaching out a hand to have it slapped away. It’s heartbreaking as someone who cares so much about connecting and believes so deeply in the power of language to help us do that. I don’t want to let an abusive person take that away from me. I cannot write a letter to him, but I can write one to myself and to you. And my hope in this for understanding, connection, and healing is not so foolish.